Does your site need to be mobile friendly?

We now do more and more of our browsing on mobile devices. According to data from KPCB, we consume more mobile digital media than any other kind. Marketers say that mobile marketing is now a key part of their strategy. The reality is, if you’re not doing mobile marketing, you’re ignoring a huge chunk of your target audience.

The Future Of Mobile

The number of people who own smartphones continues to rise. In 2010, the Mobile Marketing Association of Asia discovered that more people own phones than toothbrushes!

By 2014, smartphone usage overtook desktop usage, and the mobile trend just keeps on going. Even then, some businesses were still hedging their bets about whether mobile marketing was going to be as big as analysts claimed. Now, with search engines aligning with mobile, we’ve truly passed the tipping point.

Google, in particular, is putting a lot of emphasis on mobile. Last year the firm significantly increased the importance of mobile friendliness to search results. To help website owners determine if they were up to scratch or not, Google created a handy tool for evaluating their site’s mobile-friendliness.

Websites that were not mobile-friendly were often passed over by Google searches on mobile. More than anything else, this change by the search giant has demonstrated the importance of having a mobile-friendly website.

So yes, you do need your site to be mobile-friendly. But there’s still a choice to make. Do you put together a responsive, easy to use website? Or do you build an app to offer a native experience?

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Should I Build An App?

It’s a reasonable question. After all, 89% of consumer media time is spent in mobile apps, according to Nielsen. So why not skip the mobile site and go straight to a high-quality app, designed with mobile use in mind?

Building an app is a significant investment. You can see prices on our pricing page. As a business, you need to prioritize your spending and resources for the highest possible ROI.

Apps are great, and offer a lot of benefits, but for an established website it’s unlikely that an app will return the same value to your users early on as a well-optimized website will.

Beyond cost, apps are far less searchable than websites. Whilst Google is taking steps to crawl app content as well, websites are still much more discoverable. As a result, they’re the first place that interested parties go for more information.

For that reason alone you should make sure that you have a mobile-friendly website before creating an app for mobile browsers. If you don’t, you risk losing customers to your competitors, because they’re showing up in searches and you’re not.

No Half Measures

You should also resist the temptation to simply optimize your website ‘enough’ for mobile and then pushing an app to anyone who lands on the website. Whilst there will be people who download the app immediately, there will be plenty more who don’t.

Downloading an app takes time, and that creates friction for your users. A download feels like dedication: the user is giving up space on their device, so it better be worth it. Visiting a website, however, is just that – visiting.

It’s not uncommon for browsers to wait to see if they like your product before downloading the app. If your website doesn’t work well for visitors who aren’t yet convinced, they won’t come back a second time to download your app.

Amazon is a good example of an organization that recognizes the value of delivering a great web and app experience for their mobile users. They have a great service and a great app which a huge number of mobile users have downloaded.

Along with all that, they have a website that’s optimized for mobile, because they understand that:

  1. Not everyone is going to download the app the first time they use Amazon on their mobile; and
  2. Not everyone has a phone/drive space to download another app.

Compatibility Matters

It’s important to remember that apps sit on top of specific operating systems. When you decide to build an app, you have to prioritize which platform you want to develop for first.

This is often a hard decision, and one you don’t have to make when developing a mobile website. To keep all your current (and future) visitors happy you should make a great mobile experience available to them through your website.

That means that if you want to target a wide audience (Apple and Android, for example), it’s going to cost you. You’ll also need to develop for different iterations of an OS, especially if you’re targeting markets in developing countries.

This drives the cost up even further. Websites, on the other hand, are much more versatile when it comes to the devices and OS’s they work on – making them the more viable option when you’re looking to establish a web presence and conserve funds.

Focus on building a great website to grow your audience; then target your converted fans with an app. If you try it the other way around, you’re in for a rough ride and your marketing funnels will drive less business.

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When Should You Build An App First?

While a mobile-friendly website is essential if you’re looking to perform well online, when it comes to areas like adoption and user satisfaction, mobile apps are often the better choice. Here are some of the cases where this is true.

Gaming

If you’re building a game, then an app is the obvious choice over a mobile website. You want to make sure you support the game with a well-optimized site, however. Even angry birds had a website from the start!

Personalization

If people are going to be storing a lot of their own data, then an app is definitely the way to go. You can use a service like Dropbox on your mobile, but the app makes it much easier to handle logins and access data on your device.

Integration With The Mobile Device

Whilst mobile web browsers are getting better at accessing some of the functions on your phone, apps still rule the roost. The GPS functionality that makes Uber possible is a classic example of a situation where an app makes far more sense than trying to provide the same experience by website.

If you have a specific activity in mind, an app that can harness the power of people’s smartphones is the way to go. Health and fitness trackers, for example, can use your device’s geolocation to track exercise, or its accelerometer to measure steps.

Offline Functionality

This is an obvious one. It very difficult and unnatural to interact with a website if you’re offline. If you want people to be able to use your product without a web connection, an app is a no-brainer.

The Pocket app, for example, downloads articles onto your device so that you can review them when you’re offline. Any changes you make offline (deleting, tagging or favoriting) are then synced once you reconnect.

Key Takeaway

You should absolutely develop a mobile-friendly website. This much is clear, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether you should continue to develop that site over time, devote your attention to an app, or go app first and bypass a website, is more nuanced. The answer to that will depend on your budget, audience, and roadmap for the future.

Looking for a little more advice on the subject? Why not speak to one of our Project Engineers to see if Gigster can help you.

Alex Blott

Alex is based in Glasgow, Scotland, and regularly takes advantage of the highlands at his doorstep. He loves interviewing Gigsters clients because they're diverse and he always learns something new. His favourite writer is John Jeremiah Sullivan.